South Sudan
The Shaky Peace Deal in South Sudan

South Sudan

A man holds a South Sudanese flag in Juba on July 9, 2016 during celebrations as part of the country's fourth independence day.

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South Sudan's peace deal remains on shaky grounds; this after the First Vice President Riek Machar accused the government forces of surrounding his residence. Tensions have been high in Juba as the government has failed to implement security arrangements as stipulated in the 2018 peace agreement. Machar claims that without prior information, the South Sudan People Defence Forces armoured personnel carriers headed to his home and this deployment undermined peacebuilding. The troops have since left but the First Vice President Machar added that such an act is disruptive to peace and weakens trust and confidence building in the East Central African nation.

Nonetheless, South Sudan President Salva Kiir has downplayed the military deployment to Machar's residence saying it's a normal security routine. But this is highly concerning as the country has faced instability since it declared independence from Sudan-Khartoum in 2011. South Sudan top leaders have been blasted by the United Nations for fuelling violence along ethnic lines and looting public funds. Juba plunged into civil war two years after President Kiir, a Dinka fired Machar from the Nuer ethnic group. Who would forget that momentous period when Pope Francis in 2019 kissed the shoes of two leaders, lamenting that South Sudanese are tired of war and the leaders had a duty to build their young nation in justice. The Pontiff repeated his wish to visit the country along with other religious leaders to solidify the peace.

According to the United Nations Mission in South Sudan, more than 400 people were massacred in bitter rival militias in the country between June and September 2021. Kiir and Machar's militias allegedly committed the atrocities. As far back as in 2014, the United States decided to impose sanctions specifically on individuals and entities that are determined to create instability in the oil rich country but have not seen its resources dividends due to the precarious situation facing Africa's young nation. But then a lot has happened since the security personnel almost invaded first Vice President Machar's residence. There’s a renewed commitment to unify army command in a key development of the peace deal signed in 2018. South Sudan's Mining Minister, Martin Abucha stressed that the most important issue is not only just signing yet another pact but the implementation is extremely crucial and that's the key expectation of South Sudanese. Abuch said that the silence of the guns is key for peace to prevail, they cannot continue to fight when they are talking peace in Juba and guns must go down from today. 

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The African Union has called for calm and urged South Sudanese leaders to embrace dialogue to ease tensions in the country. The continental body says leaders must recommit to the full implementation of the 2018 peace deal. The AU delegation encouraged the presidency to uphold dialogue and improve the communication between the opposition and the government. They were also ordered to develop a roadmap to set out how to implement all outstanding items in the peace pact at least before the transitional government term expires in 11 months. But the AU has not been innocent, experts have blamed its lethargy in addressing serious issues facing South Sudan, the African Union has failed to establish the Hybrid Court for South Sudan to serve as a key instrument to punish all those behind the serious international crimes committed in the country's conflict. This failure, even with an AU established Commission of Inquiry on South Sudan means no one has been held accountable. It raised concerns about the continental body's commitment to accountability. South Sudanese entrusted the AU to ensure that justice is served and end the culture of impunity. South African President Cyril Ramaphosa appointed his Deputy President David Mabuza as special envoy to facilitate the meeting among parties to find solution to the critical issue of states and boundaries as part of the Revitalised Transitional Government of National Unity. Mabuza insisted that they are hopeful that one day a breakthrough will be achieved and once again exhorted parties to accept the proposals and agree on a workable solution.

The oil rich South Sudan has been engulfed in ethnic violence since December 2013 and over 400 000 people have died since the conflict started. Numerous attempts to build peace have failed, including the pact that saw opposition leader Machar return as Vice President in 2016 only to run away as fighting didn’t stop. A second peace settlement was signed in 2018, it has mainly held with warring parties forming a coalition in 2020 and Kiir and Machar trying one more time to run as the country's President and Vice-President respectively. A lot of pundits say the new agreement won’t last but it's up to South Sudanese to put down their arms and ensure that the nation thrives. Pope Francis has promised to visit South Sudan and the key question is, will he kiss the shoes of the leaders who continue to fail to achieve peace and stability?

The article is written by freelance journalist Khaya Khumalo on behalf of the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom in sub-Saharan Africa.